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teps for the personal representative

Steps for the Personal Representative

It can be overwhelming when a loved one passes away. The following steps are written as a guide for the next of kin or personal representative of the decedent. Although they are ordered, many of these tasks can be undertaken at the same time. For example, the first steps in administrative tasks can be taken the same day as the first steps in funeral arrangements.

Immediate tasks

  1. Lock the decedent’s real estate premises to keep contents secure.
  2. Prepare a team to help you get through this. Make a list of close family members that may be willing to help you attend to some of the tasks involved. This can include: helping spread news of the decedent’s death; helping with tasks involved in the service; editing the obituary; helping with the financial tasks involved in canceling memberships; or writing thank you notes on behalf of the family after the funeral.
  3. Begin to let friends and family know.

Administrative tasks

  1. Order certified copies of the death certificate. These can be ordered through the county health department or from the cremation/funeral home. You’ll probably want to order at least two copies, though every situation is different and you may need more.
  2. Use the post office’s forward mail option to redirect mail to the personal representative, if you have the legal authority to do so. The incoming mail can be used to verify bills, memberships and accounts that will need to be dealt with later.
  3. Begin composing the obituary. You’ll need biographical information and perhaps feedback from the decedent’s other family and friends. An obituary is not legally necessary.
  4. Locate the decedent’s estate planning documents, including Last Will and Testament and/or trusts. You’ll also want to locate their digital assets and passwords.
  5. Florida law requires that the original will is deposited with the clerk of court within ten days of the decedent’s death in the county where the decedent resided.
  6. You will also want to locate financial statements, insurance policies, deeds and titles. Contact the decedent’s estate planning attorney for further direction. If you are the successor trustee or personal representative, you may need to petition the courts about access to a safety deposit box if you weren’t named jointly.
  7. Contact Social Security to notify them of the death as well as the decedent’s employer or former employers (including the Veterans administration) to determine survivor benefits.
  8. Have the life insurance policy beneficiary contact life insurance companies to fill out necessary forms.
  9. Cancel memberships, life insurance policies, media accounts, and any other reoccurring charge accounts of the decedent. Close credit cards and notify reporting agencies.

Funeral Arrangements

  1. Locate the statement of authority to make funeral arrangements. Did the decedent have any pre-paid arrangements? If their death was unexpected, and/or the decedent never expressed their wishes, responsibility for making funeral arrangements is first with the surviving spouse, then adult children, followed by parents, siblings, grandchildren, and grandparents. 
  1. Make arrangements at the funeral home. The Veteran’s Administration may be able to help with some of the expenses and honors for the funeral; they can be reached at 1-800-827-1000.
  2. Organize a wake, celebration of life, or similar occasion to share memories. This can be held nearly anywhere and is usually held after the funeral or service.
  3. Share the details of both the service and any post-gathering event with friends, family and community groups or places of worship that were important to the decedent.
  4. Publish the obituary.
  5. Your family may also choose to publish the obituary and service details on social media and memorialize the decedent’s account on Facebook.

Probate (after Administrative Tasks are complete)

  1. Consult a probate attorney to determine if a probate administration is needed.
  2. Take possession of estate assets for safekeeping (if you are personal representative or successor trustee).
  3. Take inventory of outstanding bills, accounts and claims, and with your probate attorney’s direction, determine a timeline for settling these accounts. Often, people pay bills and settle accounts at the wrong time. This can be tricky.
  4. At the beginning of probate, the personal representative will need to create a new bank account for the estate (whether probate or trust) so that they can pay bills and then distribute assets to beneficiaries, and file tax returns for the estate.